The Prodigal Is Coming Home
It’s been a long time since Colt Stafford shrugged off his cowboy legacy for shiny Manhattan loafers and a promising career on Wall Street. But when stock market manipulations leave him financially strapped, the oldest son of legendary rancher Sam Stafford decides to return to the sprawling Double S ranch in Gray’s Glen, Washington. He’s broke, but not broken, and it’s time to get his legs back under him by climbing into the saddle again.
He doesn’t expect to come home to a stranger pointing a loaded gun at his chest— a tough yet beautiful woman that Sam hired as the house manager. Colt senses there’s more to Angelina Morales than meets the eye, and he’s determined to find out what she’s hiding...and why.
Colt’s return brings new challenges. Younger brother Nick, who’s longbeen Sam’s right-hand man,isn’t thrilled when Colt inserts himself into Double S affairs. And the ranch’s contentious relationship with the town’s people forces all the Stafford men to reconsider what it truly means to be a neighbor. As Wall Street recovers, will Colt succumb to the call of the financial district—or stay in the saddle for good?
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Acknowledgments and sincere thanks
No book is the act of one person, and this one is no excep- tion. Thank you to my son, Luke Blodgett of Angelo Gordon in New York City, for his expertise regarding Colt’s life, work, and position in Lower Manhattan. Hedge-fund managers don’t often talk about their work, so having raised one gave me an inside look at the workings of big finance. Luke, I appreciate your help, your time, and the coffee! I love you, kid! To Shannon Marchese of WaterBrook Multnomah for her straightforward humor and the opportunity to give my cowboys — and me! — a chance. This delightful series of books wouldn’t have happened without her input and her seal of approval.
To the Washington Cattlemen’s Association in Ellensburg, Washington, for their excellent website and referenced websites that helped formulate initial research, and to Mary and Ivan Connealy for their firsthand knowledge of running a solid cattle operation. Thank you for always answering whatever questions I might have. I love coming to visit the cows!
To Cle Elum for being just the kind of town I wanted Gray’s Glen to be: close-knit, part of the whole, and welcoming to strangers. We loved stopping in various shops, and the maple bars at the bakery won my heart!
Huge thanks also to Natasha Kern for her candid observations about Central Washington: climate, flora, fauna . . . all the little things a person knows about her place.
And to Lissa Halls Johnson whose candid advice helped shape and define the final product so beautifully.
And a final and righteously sincere knuckle bump to God, the Ever Present, the Most High, who granted me the talent . . . and the time . . . to see this happen. Well played, my Lord!
The sharp metallic click meant one thing.
Someone had a gun pointed in Colt Stafford's general direction.
He sucked a breath and realized two other things. First, these might be the last two thoughts he'd ever have-and that would be a downright shame, wouldn't it?
It was clear he'd been away from the Double S too long when he couldn't tell what kind of gun it was by the sound of the mechanism. Was it his father's Ithaca Deerslayer or the vintage Remington short barrel?
He put his hands high, figuring this was about as good a wel come as he could expect after being gone nearly nine years. "I'm unarmed and this is my home. Kind of. Who in the name of all that's good and holy in the West has me at gunpoint?"
An explosive stream of Spanish brought him two more thoughts. The person speaking wasn't his sick father- the man he'd come home to help. It was a woman, and not too tall gauging from the direction of the Hispanic tongue-lashing being laid down.
He turned his head slightly.
Backlit from the foyer light, her features were hard to make out.
Her silhouetted frame said she was petite and most assuredly feminine.
The gun, however, wasn’t.
“I’m Colt Stafford, Sam’s son, and I told Dad I was coming home to help. Whoever you are, let me turn around, and you can see who I am.”
She paused, then issued a command. “Darse la vuelta.”
Which he would have gladly obeyed if he’d taken Spanish in high school and understood her request. But he hadn’t. He’d taken Latin because he thought it sounded cool to say he’d taken Latin. That was only one of many stupid moves he’d made over the years. “I have no idea what that means.”
Would his confession earn him a bullet? And where was his father? Why hadn’t Sam Stafford stormed down the massive rustic front staircase and welcomed his prodigal son with a nice beef barbecue after all this time? Didn’t anyone around here read the Bible anymore?
Dude, your mother was the churchgoing member of the family. Dad? Not so much. The whole prodigal’s great return thing might be lost on him.
That he understood. The thick accent disappeared with the deliberate shift to English, leaving only a hint of Latina. He turned slowly, respecting the size of the weapon and the temerity of the woman holding it.
“Turn on that light behind you. Please.”
Please? Did she just add “please” to her direct order, as if she might believe him? He’d hold back on the humor of the situation because either the Remington or the Ithaca would make short work of him at this range, and his pricey wardrobe was about the only accessible tan- gible he had left after years of hard work and financial ladder climb- ing. Bullets rarely hit seams, and fixing a hole in the middle of his lapel would be impossible, even for the best Manhattan tailors.
He hit the switch but kept his focus on the woman. When soft light flooded the area, his heart hit pause.
He wasn’t sure what he expected. Maybe some aged abuela working to earn money for her family. Streams of Central American immigrants came north to work the vast fruit orchards of Washing- ton. Some stayed, sending money back home to help those still south of the border. His smattering of Spanish came from working along- side some of those laborers as a kid.
But the woman facing him was nobody’s grandmother. Angular planes lent a hint of Native American attributes to her exquisite face, perfectly sculpted brows deepened the angles, and eyes the color of dense, dark smoke appraised him.
And in that gaze? She found him lacking. So what else was new?
In Stafford-speak, you toed the line and lived for the ranch. Sam Stafford was an all-or-nothing guy, and Colt had broken the rules. Now it was time to eat crow, humble pie, and anything else they served prodigals these days since the fatted calf refused to make an appearance. “I’m Colt.” He gestured toward the picture on the far wall. “I’m on the right, next to Nick and behind Trey.”
“I’m not blind.” She stared hard at him and slowly lowered the gun. “You have been away many years and have no use for your father. This I know well.”
“Good.” A quick chill climbed his back. “That saves us the customary exchange of pleasantries. And you are?”
“Angelina Morales.” She said the name with unusual crispness. “I am your father’s housekeeper and cook.” Her tone softened, but her expression stayed tough. “I help keep things running smooth. And” — she sighed, and her posture said she didn’t like admitting this next part — “I am sorry I pointed a gun at you. It’s late and I heard a strange noise.”
“I tried calling. No one answered.”
She flushed. “I was away this evening. The men were off, and your father is having tests in the hospital. I stopped to see him, then ran errands in town.”
“Hospital? How bad is he?” Colt moved closer and relieved her of the gun. He unloaded the Ithaca bent barrel, his father’s favorite, then set it back above the fireplace, old-style. “He told me he’s been losing strength, but my father isn’t exactly an old man.” He studied Angelina’s face. “Is he going to be okay?”
“He’s not okay. You know he is a private man and will want to tell you things himself.” She motioned toward the stairs of the classic western home, her expression serious. “I haven’t dusted your room in two weeks or washed the blankets in a long time. I apologize for this, and I will take care of it in the morning, but for now it will have to do.”
“I spent a lot of years riding herd. Sometimes I fell into that bed dog-tired and plenty dirty. A little dust and unwashed blankets are nothing.”
Doubt and disparagement filled her eyes as she scanned his designer suit. “Dog-tired is still fine. Sleeping dirty in a clean bed is not.” Bossy. Antagonistic. Well, he wouldn’t be in the house enough to have her tough-girl attitude bother him. And if he wanted to fall asleep dirty at the end of a long day riding herd or freeze-branding beef, he’d do it.
He started for the stairs, realized he was reacting more like a five- year-old than a thirty-five-year-old, and turned. “Thank you, Angelina. For not shooting me and for your good care for my father.”
Disbelief claimed her features at his lame attempt to man up, and in that one look he knew Angelina Morales wasn’t easily impressed by anything, which was probably why she was able to put up with his father.
Like you’re the easygoing one of the family? Yeah. Right, cowboy.
Reality hit home as he climbed the stairs with the small carry-on bag he’d brought into the house. He would bring in the meager bal- ance of his possessions tomorrow. For tonight, this was enough.
He’d come back west tired, disillusioned, and filled with self- doubt, but at least he had a place to come back to. A lot of his Wall Street associates were out on the street after this latest market correc- tion and Ponzi-style fiasco. He should be counting his blessings, even though he had an option most guys in New York wouldn’t under- stand. The chance to mount up and man up.
God’s timing is eternal and perfect.
His mother would have said that. She’d have been wrong, but she’d have said it, and he would have believed her because Christine Stafford was honest and kind and exuded warmth like the golden rays of angled sunlight on a late-August afternoon.
He lost her thirty-one years ago. He was four years old, just start- ing preschool.
He remembered being scared, so scared that first day of school. The building, big and brown. All those windows. People every- where. Kids running, playing, laughing. He wondered how he could get out of there, but his mother took his hand, led him to a quiet corner, and squatted low. “Trying new things is good for us, Colt. It makes us stronger, like eating spinach when we’d rather have candy.”
“I don’t like spinach.”
“But you tried it and made me so proud.” She’d leaned in and kissed his cheek. “And now it’s time to try this.”
He’d sighed and looked around, and she’d waited for him to make the decision. She’d put it in his hands. That was another thing to miss once she was gone. His father wasn’t the make-your-own- decision type. Sam Stafford’s motto was “my way or the highway,” with the guts and grit that built a multimillion-dollar beef enterprise while others around him failed.
He’d looked up at his mother and whispered, “I’ll try it, Mom. I
She kissed his cheek, ruffled his hair, and slipped out.
He never saw her again. A semi carrying an unbalanced load spun out of control on the two-lane. The ensuing crash killed three people — including Christine Stafford.
He’d kept his promise. He’d tried school, and he did well. Over the years he’d tried a lot of things and done well until a few weeks before when the market nosedived and abject failure found him. He’d have been all right if that was all that happened. The hedge funds he governed were designed to withstand market pressures, but when the stock market slide revealed a mammoth Ponzi scheme run by a major Wall Street investment firm — a firm he’d trusted with a massive amount of money — his investment in that fund crashed along with a lot of people’s money. Good people, normal folks who trusted his expertise. He’d failed them. He’d failed himself.
And now he was back in the West, humbled by circumstance, not choice. The Manhattan DA had some of his assets in lockdown, some were in critically hit market funds, and some had disappeared in Tomkins’s well-shielded pyramid structure.
God’s timing, eternal and perfect? What a joke.
But he’d made that promise to his mother, to try things as needed. Right now he could use a job, and his father needed hands on deck. Colt was a numbers guy, and the mathematics of the situa- tion wasn’t lost on him. In the end it all came down to simple equa- tions. One plus one equaled two.
Unless the human factor messed things up. And in Gray’s Glen, Washington?
That was entirely possible.
“Slick City Boy Comes Home.” Angelina didn’t find the imaginary headline amusing as she strode toward her first-floor suite beyond the state-of-the-art kitchen and washing facilities. The extended hallway gave her just enough distance to provide space and privacy to be her own person, even on Stafford land.
She walked into her room and closed the door, trying to sort old memories from current concerns.
You pulled a gun on Colt Stafford.
Holding Sam’s son at gunpoint fell neatly into the realm of cur- rent concerns. What was she thinking?
Her heart hammered as she crossed the room. She listened to the messages on the house phone, and there it was. “This is Colt. I’m on my way from the airport. They switched my flight, so I’ll be there tonight instead of in the morning.”
Information that would have been helpful thirty minutes ago. How could she have been so stupid?
Not stupid, her conscience argued. Your training kicked in, plain and simple. Launching into Spanish, though? That was a blast from the past, chica.
Her ability to deepen or lose her accent had worked in her favor on the Seattle police force but was not helpful now. Detective Mary Angela Castiglione could role-play at will, but here at the Double S, Angelina Morales should be unchanging — a simple housekeeper who liked to cook, clean, and sew tiny gowns for grieving parents.
What if Colt’s father took offense at her actions? What if he fired her?
Sam loves you. He treats you like a daughter, and he knows the truth. He knows you; he knows your past. He understands. He’ d never let you go.
The mental reassurance sounded nice, but then she’d never pulled a gun on one of Sam’s sons before.
First time for everything. Being stubborn, Staffords, and male, they probably half expect it.
The truth of that almost made her smile. The cold, hard look on
Colt Stafford’s face erased the temptation.
She’d dealt with his kind before. Cool, calculating men in de- signer suits with a head for finance and a heart for gambling. Lust for money and power had taken too much from her already.
She’d brought her mother and son inland and nailed her two familial objectives: safety and obscurity. Her mother was discontented but safe, and her precious son was protected. She’d found an incomplete peace in Gray’s Glen, a small western town nestled in a broad valley of rolling fields. It was a respite from the dark crimes of city streets.
Managing the ranch house had been the ideal solution to myriad problems, but she may have ruined everything by grabbing that gun.
Anyone who takes offense at a woman defending herself isn’t worth the bother, her conscience chided. The gun is above the fire- place for a reason. This isn’t Country Décor 101. It’s the Old West, a century removed, but still a place where it’s not only okay to own a gun, it’s downright smart to know how to use it.
She’d known how to use a gun long before she moved here. Anyone brought up by Isabo and Martín Castiglione understood the basics of self-defense. Raised in a poverty-stricken village in Ecuador, her parents had come to America and acquired citizenship before she was born. They’d given her the right to be an American, and her policeman father’s exemplary service record set the bar high. How proud he’d been at her academy graduation. Eyes moist, he’d hugged her and praised God for a second generation Castiglione cop.
And then he’d been killed because she’d rattled too many racke- teer cages as a detective. Her choice to follow in his footsteps became her father’s shroud, and she had the rest of her life to deal with that.
She sighed, eyes closed. Father Almighty, Creator blessed, hear the plea of your daughter. Forgive my stubbornness, my pridefulness. Guide me in the paths of righteousness and humility.
She tried to staunch it, but to no avail. If she’d been righteous, she wouldn’t be a mother.
If Ethan had been honest, you’ d be a wife as well as a mother.
Angelina shook her head. She refused to make excuses for herself. Yes, it was more acceptable to be an unmarried woman bearing a child these days, but she’d promised to do things the right way. Then she broke that word by believing a tall, good-looking Ivy League financial investor. For a short while, she thought the rich blue blood meant to marry her. Cinderella to the max.
Wrong. Ethan Harding intended no such thing, which made her somewhat stupid for a smart girl. His selfish goals for their re- lationship had never included a happily-ever-after, and he didn’t care that a small child bearing his DNA came into being.
Angelina did care. She’d refused Ethan’s proposed payoff. She didn’t need anyone else in order to raise her son God’s way. And when Noah Martín Castiglione was born, he gripped her finger and
didn’t let go. It had been that way ever since. A tiny boy, wise beyond his years, trusting her to do what was right.
With so much more to lose if things went awry, she’d do what- ever it took to protect those she loved. Living a secretive life had be- come imperative after they buried her beloved father. She hoped, no prayed, that she hadn’t just lost her tucked-in-the-hills job.
The scent of grilled steak and fried eggs woke Colt bright and early.
His belly growled a welcome. His gut clenched in anticipation. His mouth watered, imagining the taste as he scrambled into blue jeans and a designer sweater — not exactly everyday ranch-hand attire.
Would racing to the kitchen look too desperate? Yes.
Plates clattered and silverware clanged as someone set the table. He made himself stroll when he longed to run. He hadn’t had more than a nibble of real food in two days. He was way beyond hungry, heading straight toward famished. He rounded the corner from the front stairs into the kitchen and came face to face with Irwin Hobbs, a longtime Double S cowboy.
“Colt. Good to see you! Welcome home!” Hobbs grabbed hold of his upper arm. The old boy’s iron grip said he’d stayed in shape as the years rolled on. He squeezed lightly but kept any opinions about Colt’s lack of muscle to himself. “It’s good you’re back. We’ve got over a thousand calves due in the next few weeks, and you’re sorely needed.” Hobbs waved a hand toward the long kitchen table where a couple of men Colt had never met sat drinking coffee, waiting for breakfast to be served. “Colt Stafford, this is Dylan McGee and Brock Stiles, a couple of local yahoos who hired on last year. These days we don’t take on any but our own locals,” Hobbs added. “Too many people usin’ this, that, and the other thing to mess up their brains. Your father don’t take kindly to the way drugs are comin’ to the Northwest.”
Brock stuck out a bronzed hand. “Nice to meet you, Colt.”
“You too.” He shook Brock’s hand, then leaned across the table to repeat the gesture. “Dylan.”
“Did you really work on Wall Street?” The young cowboy seemed amazed, almost star-struck.
Hobbs fought a grin.
Colt grasped the younger man’s hand in a quick shake. “For nine years.”
“Wearing a suit?” The kid uttered the phrase as if wearing a suit was either the worst punishment ever or a crowning glory.
“I see them New Yorkers in the mornin’ sometimes when I dial up them news shows,” Hobbs said. “Sittin’ there in front of their glass windows, the people and weather goin’ straight on by behind
’em.” Hobbs shook his head. “Settin’ inside, while life passes on. Can’t get my head ’round that, no how.”
“You’d rather be caught in a blizzard, old man?” Brock stared at
Hobbs as if the older man might have a screw loose.
“Well, not exactly a blizzard, but a snowstorm?” He shrugged, unimpressed. “They ain’t that bad. Just regular. Though I hear that global warmin’ stuff means we’ll probably be tropical by the time Nick’s girls are growed. We’ll be raisin’ flowers for them lay-ee things they hand out in Hawaii instead of fattenin’ cattle.”
“Old man, you might be pushing up flowers by then anyway, so it don’t much matter.”
Hobbs’s grin showed the gap in his lower front teeth. “The good
Lord will call me when it’s my time, not a minute before.”
“Sit,” Angelina said, removing a sheet of biscuits from the oven. “Shouldn’t I go see Dad first? And where’s Nick?”
“Right here,” his younger brother said as he strode in through the back door, looking every inch the rugged cattle rancher he always wanted to be. At least someone’s dreams came true in the whole convoluted reality-TV-style mess of three brothers with five different parents. “You ready to jump in?”
“You got work clothes for me?”
“They’ll be loose.” Nick cast an amused glance at the other two men. “You’re not as bulked up as you used to be.”
“I’ve been using my brain instead of my brawn,” Colt replied. A part of him wanted to go toe-to-toe with Nick for five minutes just to get it out of their systems. He hadn’t pounded on anyone since his last visit ended badly, but the enticing odor of lean grilled steak and farm-fresh eggs took precedence. For now.
“Brain instead of brawn.” Nick jabbed Colt’s right shoulder. “How far’d that get you?”
Colt paused. Began counting to ten. Made it to five before he lunged forward aiming a fist at his brother’s laughing face.
Nick’s quick block made it a glancing blow, but Colt pulled up tight, ready to do whatever his little brother thought necessary to get this over with now.
A rolling pin smacked hard on the counter, inches from them. They swung about, and Colt found himself staring into those same smoke-filled eyes he’d met the night before. It seemed Angelina was adept at finding weaponry in every room of the house, making her one of the most versatile women he’d met in a while. “One drop of stupid Stafford blood gets spilled in my clean kitchen, and I’ll take the hide off both of you.”
Nick straightened but looked somewhat reluctant to back off— which was kind of how they’d both been since Nick was born. “Sorry, Angelina. I — ”
“You!” She waved the pin at Nick, and he stepped back, hands up. “You are upset by many things these days, here and at your home with the girls, but is this” — she stretched out the word as she pointed toward Colt — “the example a loving father sets? Picking fights with others? Or do you want your beautiful daughters to see a man who rises above, who goes the distance for his family? You are their only model of behavior now.” She set the rolling pin down, and Colt was pretty sure he heard a collective sigh as the three men began to breathe easier. “I believe you should make it a good one. Seeing you fight with your brother will show your daughters more division. They’ve already seen enough of that, haven’t they?”
Nick surrendered without an argument, a rare moment in Stafford-land. “You’re right, Ange. Like usual.”
“And you.” She shifted her attention to Colt and indicated the platter on the table next to him. “Would you rather fight? Or eat?”
Colt pulled out the chair in front of the plate and sat in it.
“I thought as much.” She reached over and poured Colt a steaming mug of fresh hot coffee, the kind he wished he could find in New York City. No one roasted and brewed coffee like they did in the Pacific Northwest.
She paused, said nothing, then went back to the cooking area. The guys exchanged quick looks. Despite their size and number,
it was clear who ran things at the Double S — the inside things any- way. He hadn’t expected this, but he’d steered clear of the Double S for a lot of years, leaving him with no idea how things had changed. Any good cowhand knows that keeping the cook happy keeps everyone happy.
Silence reigned as the men ate an astonishing amount of food for this time of the morning. Colt plowed through a strip steak, fried potatoes and onions, three eggs, and a hunk of Texas-style toast. He knew the rigors of calving would burn this away well before supper. On range days, the guys went out with a lunch in hand, knowing a hot supper would be waiting when they returned at night. A long day, a hard saddle, and tough, tugging work awaited him.
Since the coffee she set before him beat anything New York had to offer, maybe his trade-off would be okay.
About two-thirds of the way through his breakfast, he turned toward Nick. “Over a thousand calves, still? Aren’t we a little late this year?”
Nick shrugged. “Last year’s tough spring messed up some timing. This year’s crop started dropping yesterday. Meat calves. The seed calves for propagation are due later. It’ll be like popcorn — the first few here and there, then the explosion of dozens a day, then back to a few here and there.”
Colt understood bad timing real well. He met Nick’s gaze. “About those clothes.”
“I brought you a bag of ’em.”
Angelina appeared at his side to refill his mug. She moved his empty plate to the counter, set a bag of clothes on the table, then bent to pour the coffee. Her proximity put him in instant sensory overload. Long dark hair, held back with a clip at the nape of her neck, tumbled over her shoulder. Sugar and spice wafted his way, a mix of cinnamon and vanilla — a scent that was pure woman and way nicer than the high-priced perfumes popular in Lower Manhattan. He reached out to take the freshened mug. “Thank you.”
She paused. Turned slightly. She didn’t speak, but the dip of her chin acknowledged his gratitude.
“There are extra coats and boots in the closet,” Nick said. “Gloves, hats, whatever you need. We brought the herd down a notch last week, but if we get hit with this storm coming, we could be in trouble. We’re talking a lot of rangeland to cover. I figured on hooking you up with Newsie.”
Yesterday’s News, his horse, still here, working and waiting. Would the big chestnut remember him? Not likely, but there was something earnestly right about pairing with his old friend again.
“Having the cows down a level is easier on your dad,” Hobbs noted.
“Is someone going to fill me in on Dad, or do I have to play twenty questions?”
“He’s sick.” Hobbs offered up the info in a style Colt remem- bered like it was yesterday. “He got one of them hepatitis things last year that messed with his liver. He’s weak but he’s doing better. Some days. But then he went and got tossed around by a protective cow who weren’t takin’ none too kindly to your daddy’s attention to her baby. A rookie mistake, so we knew somethin’ weren’t right from the get-go.” He turned a no-nonsense look to the two younger cowboys on the far side of the table. “Never turn your back on an angry woman, boys. Words to live by.”
“Whereas I would prefer ‘Do unto others as you would have done unto you,’ ” remarked Angelina, but she slanted a look of amusement and affection toward Hobbs.
“Does he need a new liver?” Colt looked from Angelina to Nick to Hobbs.
“We don’t know.” Eyes down, Nick gripped his mug. “We don’t know all that much right now.”
“So you’re not bein’ left out, you’re bein’ included on the same lack of knowledge we’re all sharin’,” Hobbs said.
“Until they know if Dad’s body will recover on its own, it’s a waiting game.” Strain tightened Nick’s observation.
“I hate waitin’,” Hobbs grumbled.
A chorus of agreement circled the table.
Angelina made a low sound, and Colt noticed all the men sat straighter, shoulders back, chins up. “Look at you sitting here, all fed and round and good, whining about waiting for a little information while hundreds of cows that have been carrying calves for nine months are about to deliver babies in the snow and wind. Bunch of whiners. Your mothers should take a switch to your behinds.”
“When she’s right, she’s right.” Hobbs stood. “I’ll take the four- wheeler ’round the back way and meet you guys.” He pointed to Colt. “Boy, you gonna hold that bag of clothes all day or get ’em on? Time’s wastin’.”
Colt took the bag upstairs, dumped the contents on the bed, and dressed as fast as he could. Nick was a touch broader and an inch taller, but not a big enough difference to matter. As he applied the layers, he caught sight of his Armani suit draped across the easy chair on the opposite side of the room. The irony of the situation caught him.
When he’d stormed off the Double S years ago, he was deter- mined to never come back — at least not to work. And he’d kept that promise a long time.
Now he pulled on jeans and a dark green turtleneck and grabbed the Carharrt rancher coat he’d taken from the downstairs closet. He put it on and glanced in the mirror.
What he saw surprised him.
Looking back at him was Colt Stafford — the real Colt Stafford — a guy who played square, shot straight, and never messed anybody over, no matter how bad things got. He gave the reflection a long, slow look, then grabbed the hat and gloves from the bed. The guy in the mirror had a job to do and needed to get on with it. As he left the room, he glanced back.
The mirror showed nothing now but a messed-up bedroom, tousled and strewn. But he knew what he saw. He saw the man he’d been, before Manhattan got hold of him. And seeing that man made him realize it had been way too long since that guy had put in an appearance anywhere.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
If you enjoy clean romances chock full of cowboys, feisty females and kids, you’ll love Back in the Saddle. The story is strong, the characters complex and likable, the conflicts believable and the ending satisfyingly sweet. Author Ruth Logan Herne satisfied my palate with this delectable story and bonus recipe. What a sweet ending!
I really enjoyed this book. This is the first book I have had the opportunity to read by this author. Some of my favorite characters were Colt and Angelina. But I also enjoyed reading about Colt's father, Sam. It seems like he had a major transformation in his life, and it was fun to read about it and watch him bond with his children who were estranged and choose a new path. It was great proof that there is always possibility for change. I also enjoyed the faith aspect of the book. I can't really think of anything about the book that I just didn't like. Of course there were some characters that weren't quite as lovable, but they made the story interesting, and added depth. I am really looking forward to reading book two, which as far as I can tell is about Colt's brother Nick. In this particular book, Nick is a struggling dad, whose wife left him and his two girls. He is having a hard time admitting the need for help. His children are suffering from his lack of understanding of their needs. He would probably be the character you'd want to smack some sense into, but his emotional state is understandable considering what he has gone through. I can't wait to see things turn around for him. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves a good clean story of redemption. I received this book courtesy of blogging for book to read. I was not asked or required to review positively.
I'm a big cowboy romance fan, so I was excited to grab this one to review. Ruth Logan Herne was a new to me author and the synopsis of the story sounded intriguing. So, I settled in for the day/night and read through nearly to the end (then I got tired so HAD to go to sleep so my CNA job wouldn't fall to pieces the next day!), but quickly picked it back up and finished it the next morning. It was that good. I loved every part of this story wholly and it will be with me forever! This is a book that I will be sharing with all who want a wonderful, inspiring read! Colt, Angelina, Nick and Sam, along with the other characters in the story, really gripped my heart. I loved watching Colt and his changes in life after leaving his city life to come home to his country family ranch. Angelina, bless her, I loved her character! Seeing her interact with Colt was a refreshing part of the story! These two were perfectly chiseled to be just the right amount of flawed. I can't give this book less than 5 stars! It's worthy of so much more. It had me twisted up inside and had me falling in love at every turn. From start to finish, this book is epically created and has the perfect amount of inspirational faith and hope woven among the pages. I can't wait to read more about these beautiful characters in book 2! Well done, Ms. Herne! You've gained a new fan in me! *I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging For Books and was under no obligation to post a review, positive or negative*
by Andrea Renee Cox I've always liked cowboys. Movies about cowboys. Books about cowboys. Cowboys tipping their hats to me (in person!). Back in the Saddle by Ruth Logan Herne was a great cowboy story that incorporated several great themes. There was the prodigal son angle, and I was surprised to see a fresh look at it. This plot can quickly become tired and overused, but I felt that Ruth really kept me on my toes with it, bringing me back into acquaintance with this storyline in a sweet way that touched my heart anew. Another theme in this book was single parents trying their best with what they've got. How true-to-life! I know several single parents, and this book reminded me of them and their daily struggles. Very well written on this front, for sure. Redemption is always a wonderful theme to weave into Christian fiction novels, and Ruth handled this with such grace. It's slipped into the small scenes, yet in very significant ways: playing cars with a little boy, eating cake at the kitchen counter, and teaching young girls to ride horses. Can you find those scenes in Back in the Saddle? Better yet, can you discover the redemption and grace offered in those scenes? *I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. Thank you, Blogging for Books!
The cover got my attention! I totally enjoyed this book! What it's about . . . The Prodigal Is Coming Home It’s been a long time since Colt Stafford shrugged off his cowboy legacy for shiny Manhattan loafers and a promising career on Wall Street. But when stock market manipulations leave him financially strapped, the oldest son of legendary rancher Sam Stafford decides to return to the sprawling Double S ranch in Gray’s Glen, Washington. He’s broke, but not broken, and it’s time to check in with his ailing father, and get his legs back under him by climbing into the saddle again. He doesn’t expect to come home to a stranger pointing a loaded gun at his chest— a tough yet beautiful woman that Sam hired as the house manager. Colt senses there’s more to Angelina Morales than meets the eye and he’s determined to find out what she’s hiding...and why. Colt’s return brings new challenges. Younger brother Nick has been Sam’s right-hand man at the ranch for years and isn’t thrilled at having Colt insert himself into Double S affairs. And the ranch’s contentious relationship with the citizens of Gray’s Glen asks all the Stafford men to examine their hearts about what it truly means to be a neighbor. And as Wall Street recovers, will Colt succumb to the call of the financial district’s wealth and power—or finally the courage to stay in the saddle for good? Check it out. Click here to visit the publishers website and download a chapter. What I thought . . . I was drawn in from the first few pages. I couldn't put it down. This was a very well written great story of romance family and faith. The story line was great. The author did a wonderful job of weaving together a romance along with a little real life struggles all interwoven into a story full of grace and forgiveness. I enjoyed the characters. I felt like they were all fully developed. I look forward to the next installment in the series. I always look forward to reading the stories of a sub-character in a book. The main characters Colt and Angelina are both well developed. Colt a is strong and dependable. Angelina is 'spit fire'. Her character is cute, strong and opinionated. Angelina doesn't mind telling everyone what she is thinking and manages to help not only Colt but his father as well come to a closer relationship with God. Overall I really enjoyed this book. It was difficult to 'put down' I would recommend it. My rating is 5 stars . . . I received a complimentary copy
Another amazing book by Ruth Logan Herne! I believe I've found a new favorite author. I'm really enjoying the warm, heartfelt romances she writes. I loved Colt and Angelina's characters. Colt is strong despite the setbacks he's recently faced. He's a little humbled by having to return to his father's ranch with no money to show for his many years in a successful Wall Street career. But not so humbled that he isn't still angry at his father for his years of emotional neglect. And not so humbled that he fades into the background. Oh no! He quickly takes to being in the saddle again and falls under the spell of the beautiful, feisty, and tough Angelina, who has a secret he's determined to reveal. Angelina is beautiful, feisty, and tough but she also has a loving and loyal heart that shows in everything she does and has endeared her to the ranch staff, and the gruff legendary ranch owner, Sam, Colt's father. Unfortunately, she has a secret that could put everything she's worked hard for the last couple of years in jeopardy. The complex dynamics of this family are real and make for a very interesting read as well as a good introduction to a continuing story line for the next books. I can't wait to read about Nick and his two precious daughters in the next story. *Thanks to Blogging For Books for a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions stated are my own.*
*My Thoughts* What a wonderful, carefree western! I thoroughly enjoyed rewarding myself with a good book after working all Saturday raking leaves! This is such a relaxing way to spend your afternoon. I fell in love with the characters and all Angelina's feisty, quirky ways! The story has such a message of healing & forgiveness but it still has a lightness about it, that is relaxing. This is my first book by Ruth, but it won't be my last. Back in the Saddle is a well written, engaging, fun novel with just enough depth to give it meaning. Thanks for sharing your talents, Ruth! _______________________________________________________ *My Rating* I give Back in the Saddle... 4 stars!! _______________________________________________ *I received this book from Litfuse, the publisher and the author in exchange for an honest review, which I have given. All thoughts were my own and I was not compensated in any other way.
Back in the saddle is a sweet story! It took me awhile to get into it but once I did it was so good! This was the first time I have read a book from Ruth Herne and it won't be my last! I felt right at home within the storyline! I loved how very important "family" and "faith" meant to them, as well as, how they all handled the difficult situations that arose in the story! The family drama and the town's relationships show you just how they walk out their faith and deal so honestly with one another. I really loved how she did not sugar coat some of the situations but she was completely "real"!! Overall, I am anxiously awaiting book 2 in this series and Heart of a Bookworm gives "Back in the saddle" 4 ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥'s!! Thank you Litfuse for allowing me this complimentary book in exchange for my honest review!!
Back in the Saddle is the first book in Ruth Logan Herne’s Double S Ranch series, and is also the first book I have ever read by her. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect going in, but I was hopeful that it would be an enjoyable story, and I was not disappointed. However, there were just a few stylistic things that bothered me a bit, but it wasn’t too much and therefore didn’t really interfere with my interest in this book. I still really loved the storyline and the characters, so you can be sure I’ll be reading more by Ruth in the future. Colt Stafford is the prodigal son personified. He left his father’s ranch years ago, determined to never come back, until his financial situation and his father’s health make staying away impossible. Upon his return, he meets Angelina Morales, his father’s new house manager, and is immediately taken with her, but is wary of the secrets he knows she keeps. However, as time goes on, Colt starts to wonder if going back to Wall Street is actually what he wants to do, or if there is so much more for him in his hometown of Gray’s Glen. I loved Angelina Morales immediately. Her pluck, her spitfire, and her determination to keep her family safe are just a few of the many things I admire about her, and I love the way she constantly took anyone who stepped out of line to task. The way she took care of Sam through his illness, and helped him as he finally accepted Christ and attempted to change his ways, are some of my favorite things about her, and I just love her little secret! Clearly I cannot tell you what it is, and I obviously don’t love the circumstances that made it a secret, but I just love it! You’ll figure out what I mean when you read the book. All in all, I really, really enjoyed this story, despite the few things that bothered me, and I’m definitely glad I have my own copy of it. Because of the little bit of stylistic issues, however, I’ve decided to only give this novel four out of five bookshelves. It still does come highly recommended from me, and I’m so excited to read more in this series. Especially since the next book is Nick’s story! I’m so excited to see how everything works out for him and his daughters! I received a copy of this book from the Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for only my honest review. (This review is from my blog, spreadinghisgrace.blogspot.com)
Back in the Saddle Double S Ranch Book #1 By Ruth Logan Herne Colt Stafford is back at the Double S Ranch. He left years ago at his father's request, vowing never to return again but with the latest downturn in the stock market Colt has no choice. His father's ill and his help is needed. But there are surprises waiting for him at the Double S - the first being a welcome with a gun aimed in his general direction by a stranger - a woman giving him instructions in Spanish! Angelina Morales has little use for Wall Street money hunger types. What she's heard about Colt and the suit arrives in do little to convince her he's any better than someone out for himself. And she's very protective of her employer Sam Stafford and she holds his sons absences against them even if Sam is a hard-head. Grey's Glen and the Double S Ranch need each other and it's time for them to all realize just who much. And Colt's return just might be the catalyst that is needed along with a change of heart among the Stafford men on the Double S. Trouble is coming and it will need everyone to come together is they are to overcome it. Back in the Saddle is an engaging and entertaining book. Fans of contemporary fiction and westerns will find much to enjoy. There is also the slightest hint of a mystery for the characters though as a reader you will be aware of what is going on. This is above all else a book about family - what brings us together and what drives us apart. The characters are believable and likable and ones I wouldn't mind revisiting in the future. I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.
In true contemporary western style best selling author Ruth Logan Herne weaves a story of a modern day prodigal son who returns home to his families ranch in Gray's Glen, Washington, after watching all his investments take a plunge for the worst on Wall Street. Now it's time to turn in his corporate designer business suits for ranch attire and mount up to do what he can to help his ailing father Sam Stafford as he recovers from the hospital. Colt Stafford and his father Sam have a huge divide separating them and it will take lots of hard work, on both their parts to mend what's been broken since Colt left home. Colt just isn't expecting to run into the housekeeper, Angelina Morales, his father has hired who seems to be more than what she appears on the outside. Armed with more than simply good lucks and the ability to cook up a hearty meal for all the hired help and family, Colt will have to prove his worth in her eyes as well. Since Colt left, it meant that his younger brother Nick had to step up in his absence even while raising two young daughters of his own. Now he isn't too happy to see Colt waltz back into the Double S as if everything is peachy, and undermine what he's worked so hard to obtain. I guess that is what makes this novel so appealing is the element of redemption of any wayward prodigal. There is always that difficulty that comes from returning home, and having to answer for the decisions one has made along the way, that while it seemed they knew best, ultimately life becomes a humbling teacher. Colt being the oldest, you think he would know better, but that is just like most to think they are ready to leave the nest and attempt to make it own their own. Just like most who invested in the Wall Street ploys in 2008 only to have it fall flat when all those quick-rich schemes turned sour. I received Back in the Saddle by Ruth Logan Herne compliments of WaterBrook Multnomah Publishers for my honest review. I did not receive any monetary compensation aside from a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest and personal review. This is the first book in the Double S Ranch Series and introduces each of the brothers in this introduction novel to readers will know what to expect in each subsequent novel, a chance to get to know each of the brothers better as well as the entire family. For me this one rated a 4 out of 5 stars.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is the first in a series and the author did a great job of introducing the three brothers who will be the main characters in each of the stories. The setting of a large cattle ranch was great and provided a picturesque back drop for the return of the oldest son, Colt Stafford. I liked Colt so much! I appreciated that he rose above painful events in his past to work hard and try to make a name for himself, yet when things fell apart and he was also needed at home, he didn’t hesitate to give his all on the ranch as well. He was such a strong and honorable man. Angelina was a wonderful character as well. She really brought the faith element alive in Back in the Saddle, plus she had a very interesting back story. Colt and Angelina’s romance was a beautiful one that I really enjoyed reading about. I liked that I got to meet all three brothers and their father in Back in the Saddle, so that I will already have a connection to these characters in future stories. I really look forward to reading the other books in this series. I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher, through Litfuse Publicity, in exchange for an honest review.
Colt Stafford returns home with his tail between his legs. After becoming penniless and failing at his career on Wall Street, he has no other choice but to go back to the one place he vowed never to return to, his father's home. Angelina Morales seems to be more than just his father's housekeeper and cook. She'd hiding something, and he aims to discover it. Troubles abound as Colt agrees to work with his younger brother to help during calving season on the ranch. Their father is ill and may not recover. Colt has no desire to stay any longer than necessary until he finds himself enjoying Angelina's company more and more. I loved this modern version of the Prodigal Son that Ruth Logan Herne wove. She had me rooting for each of the characters and eagerly flipping pages to learn more of this delightful tale. I give a 4 out of 5 for happily-ever-afters. This book was provided free for review by Multnomah Books - 2016.
4.5 Stars BACK IN THE SADDLE was enjoyable from beginning to end! Between the opening scene where the two love interests meet under less-than-favorable circumstances, the the ranch work and cowboys, sweet kids, complex family relationships, believable and inspiring religious elements, and a romance that develops from attraction, friendship, and respect, this story had it all and more. Would definitely recommend to those who enjoy inspiring romance. I loved these characters! Angelina was full of spunk, heart, smarts, and beauty. She was equally matched by Colt who has issues to work through, band whose tough shell and sardonic outlook on life can't stand against the way Angelina, the town, the ranch, and his family tug on his heart. I loved their interactions and really all the interactions and dialogue between all these characters. The kids added so much to this story and they were spot-on for how I would think kids these ages and with their backgrounds would act. I loved all the family, ranch, and town dynamics. There was seriously so much personality in this book. I also loved the pacing and the twists and turns of the story. There was some drama, some scares, some emotional struggles (I would have liked to delve even deeper emotionally), some lovely and sizzling romance, and an inspirational element that all kept the story moving at a steady pace while keeping me engrossed. I loved the sparks and chemistry and the relationships and how they were challenged and mended as the story progressed. This is the first book in this new series and I'm hoping the next two will focus on the other two brothers (and maybe their neighbor, Lucy). I can't wait to visit this family and the Double S ranch again! Highly recommend! Content: Clean Source: Received a complimentary copy from the publisher through Litfuse Publicity, which did not affect my review in any way.
Ruth Logan Herne in her new book, “Back In The Saddle” Book One in the Double S Ranch series published by Multnomah Books introduces us to Colt and Angelina. From the back cover: The Prodigal Is Coming Home It’s been a long time since Colt Stafford shrugged off his cowboy legacy for shiny Manhattan loafers and a promising career on Wall Street. But when stock market manipulations leave him financially strapped, the oldest son of legendary rancher Sam Stafford decides to return to the sprawling Double S ranch in Gray’s Glen, Washington. He’s broke, but not broken, and it’s time to check in with his ailing father, and get his legs back under him by climbing into the saddle again. He doesn’t expect to come home to a stranger pointing a loaded gun at his chest— a tough yet beautiful woman Sam has hired as the house manager. Colt senses there’s more to Angelina Morales than meets the eye and he’s determined to find out what she’s hiding…and why. Colt’s return brings new challenges. Younger brother Nick has been Sam’s right-hand man at the ranch for years and isn’t thrilled at having Colt insert himself into Double S affairs. And the ranch’s contentious relationship with the citizens of Gray’s Glen asks all the Stafford men to examine their hearts about what it truly means to be a neighbor. And as Wall Street recovers, will Colt succumb to the call of the financial district’s wealth and power—or finally the courage to stay in the saddle for good? There is a lot going on at the Double S Ranch which tells us that this is going to be a very interesting series. Colt Stafford is the eldest son who walked away from everything ranch related in the state of Washington and moved clear across to the other coast in New York. He was doing quite well as a power broker but a transaction went bad so he decides to head back home for all kinds of healing. Angelina Morales is running the house and didn’t know who Colt was when she pointed the rifle at him. Now the two of them have an interest in each other but it isn’t going to be easy to develop because of secrets that do not want to be shared. However when Colt and Angelina get together the sparks really start to fly. I think Ms. Herne has given us first-class characters that we can identify with and relate to and, certainly, want to read about. I think you will enjoy reading this book and not want to put it down unless you finished. I recommend this book highly and am really looking forward to the next book in the series. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Litfuse Publicity Group. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
When prodigal son and Wall Street financier Colt Stafford is implicated in a Ponzi scheme resulting in his assets either being frozen or lost, he returns home to work on the Double S. Ranch on which he was raised in small town Grays Glen, Wa.. Arriving earlier than expected, he is met with the click of his father's gun in the hands of Angelina Morales, housekeeper and caregiver for his father Sam - who is recovering from an accident and other health issues. When Colt disappointed his father by seeking a career in New York City - it complicated an already tense relationship with not only his father but also his brother Nick who was left to manage the ranch when Colt left. Nick is frustrated by additional personal issues which have resulted in his raising two young daughters alone. No-nonsense, take-charge, efficient Angelina, a former police detective, is hiding secrets that caused her to leave a career she loved and retreat to the ranch with her widowed mother and young son - to secure their safety. Sam Stafford was left a bitter, demanding man - interested in advancing his assets at any cost, after the death of his wife, Colt's mother, at a young age. Encouraged by Angelina's faith and the realization of his own mortality, Sam is determined to redeem himself by making amends and reconciling his family - while Colt and Angelina struggle between returning to the careers they love and their increasing attraction for each other. 'Back in the Saddle', the first in the Double S. Ranch series by Ruth Logan Herne, is a powerful novel of reconciliation, forgiveness, hope, faith, love, and self-awareness. I look forward to reuniting with the realistic, engaging characters in future novels of the series. I was provided a free copy of 'Back in the Saddle' in return for my honest opinion, which I have given.
BACK IN THE SADDLE is a contemporary romance with a New York City stockbroker cooling his heels and working his muscles on a western cattle ranch after a deal went south on Wall Street. He's estranged from his father and brothers and hasn't seen them in nine years, which has to be difficult. Colt is healing, his dad has deep regrets and the housekeeper/cook seems to be running the whole shebang. What is up with that? A little investigating reveals Angelina isn't what she pretends. Will Colt find his footing on the ranch or race back to NYC as soon as the cattle gate opens? BACK IN THE SADDLE is kind of slow moving, but it did steadily plod along. It was interesting to see these two strong willed characters -- and I say two, actually the whole family and crew are strong willed, try to do what they need to do and keep from butting heads in the process. Difficult, even for the most even tempered of the bunch. Angelina used her rolling pins multiple times to break up sibling warfare, but what about when she and Colt butt heads? If you like cowboy romances with an unlikely cowboy and a housekeeper/cook with secrets then don't miss BACK IN THE SADDLE. Definitely not edge of your seat, tension filled romance, but rather a healing, a coming home, a renewing of a family. Ms. Herne is a talented author and fans won't want to miss this book.
I've always enjoyed the stories of Ruth Logan Herne. She has a certain way of writing her characters that make me feel like it's easy to get to know them. I absolutely loved the setting of the ranch amid the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. It gave a great foundation of peace and beauty for the conflicts and hard work Colt and Angelina endure.The family relationships are shifting throughout the novel as the family transitions and adjusts to changing circumstances. Angelina plays a role in the family that goes much deeper than housekeeper and cook, which makes her hesitate to return to her former life. The older cowboys that work on the ranch also help Colt find his footing in the new dynamics of the ranch and provide stability. I liked the theme of redemption as Colt's father Sam tries to run his ranch and interact with the community is a way that reflects the values of his new faith. (Thank you to Waterbrook Multnomah and Litfuse Publicity for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review)
Back in the Saddle, the latest novel by Ruth Logan Herne, opens up with Colt Stafford returning to his father's ranch after nine years away. Colt has been away fighting the demons of Wall Street; however, now he is broken and returning home only to be greeted by a gun just steps inside his father's house! Colt quickly realizes that much has changed since he left home. When Colt finally meets the gun-toting housekeeper and cook, Angelina Morales, he learns that his father, Sam Stafford, is currently in the hospital recovering from an accident. Colt and his father have had an estranged relationship for years, ever since his mother died when Colt was only four years old! Colt has no idea what to expect when his father finally returns to the ranch. After several days in his father's house, Colt learns that Angelina is a former Seattle detective and he cannot understand what she is doing living and working in his father's home! Will Colt ever discover what Angelina is doing away from her former life and how will he respond to the new man his father has become after Sam's life-changing experience with Jesus Christ? This is a fun adventure to follow as Colt and Angelina learn what God has in store for them! I received this book from Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for my unbiased review http://penlessreview.blogspot.com/
I just don't know how she does it!! These characters & the events in this book are so real! I could literally almost smell the cowboys as they came in the house from a long day work day on the ranch! Seriously! I tried to go to bed, but just had to pick up the book and finish it. It is packed with action. I loved it! Five Stars all the way!!!